Saturday, October 11, 2008

Report from Iran: Gaining a dress-size in Tehran & other stories...

There's something about airports that have their own mystique. You kind of get caught up in a whirl of unreality like you're in a parallel universe -- where nobody sleeps and you all live on airplane food instead of the real thing. "How much does a bottle of Chanel # 5 cost?" I asked the lady in a duty-free shop at the Frankfurt airport.

"$90." Nope, I'll wait until after the dollar deflates. But dollars are actually getting a good exchange rate here in Iran. However, by the time I flew into Tehran at 1:00 am yesterday, all the duty-free shops had already closed. But there is still very much a market economy over here. You can't go to a McDonalds anywhere in Tehran but sanctions haven't blocked Coca-Cola from running a franchise over here.

And boy is the food good. We went shopping for long-sleeved dresses today and when I tried on a dress in my usual size, I looked like a sausage.

Before I came over here, I was all worried about not dressing according to the Iranian Islamic dress code and thus arrived at the airport looking like a nun dressed for an expedition to the North Pole. You shoulda seen me on the airplane, trying to change into a semi-burka in the middle of turbulence while the steward kept braying over the loudspeaker, "Return to your seats! Return to your seats! We are ready to land!" And when I finally did stumble out of the aft head, all my Iranian seatmates laughed at me. My long flowing skirt was all tucked into my blue jeans and you couldn't even SEE my face. All the other ladies on the plane simply put on a headscarf.

Anyway, Tehran looks just like any other big city in the civilized world. Cars, buildings, billboards, freeways and ads for Sony and Panasonic. There's not much of "The Other" over here.

Today we went to a bunch of museums, including a ceramics museum and a bank vault the size of a basketball court containing all the gold, diamonds, rubies, emeralds and sapphires you could possibly imagine. "The jewels exhibited here are priceless," said our guide, but I myself would estimate perhaps three or four trillion dollars -- almost the exact cost of Bush's war on Iraq. All of these treasures belonged to the Shahs, the former kings of Iran before the revolution. One diamond-covered golden baby rattle alone must have been worth three million dollars all by itself.

"Are any of the people who owned all this still alive?" I asked our guide.

"No, all of them are dead." There's a moral here -- that even a treasure-house full of jewels beyond imagining won't be able to make you immortal.

In two more days I leave for Perspolis. Sorry, guys, but I haven't seen any terrorists or war mongers yet. Everyone over here so far has been really really nice.